Sunday, November 12, 2017

Monday Musings 296 - Fixing Internal VUCA.

Monday Musings: Fixing Internal VUCA.
(We are fixing the wrong VUCA !!)

I have a feeling that right after the Indian economy opened up in 1991, for the next 20 years or so, there was no speaker in any conference across India who did not begin his speech with acknowledging the effects of the twin forces of ‘globalisation & liberalisation’. It was as the grand homage paid to the latest buzzword that had been washed up our shores – and we just could not cross the speech without paying obeisance to it. Our reputation of intelligence in people’s eyes appeared to depend on it.

I think we have discovered the rightful heir to this buzzword – VUCA. I have not heard any speaker in any conference in the last few years who does not pay homage to it in his speech. Almost all of them pronounce it with seriousness which is best described as a combination of reverence and delicateness. The fear is palpable as the words come out – as if the mere mention of it will consume the speaker, to the point that it appears concocted. I am told VUCA as a phrase is more than half a century old – although the vigour in its usage appears to be of recent origin.

I am sure VUCA is a remarkable framework to look at the chaos around us – it kind of explains a lot of things. However an over usage of the phrase does not make it go away – just as talking about weight does not make a person lose weight. The external VUCA i.e. all the forces that are raging in complex and convoluted ways that they are – is real. Frankly I do not see what we could possible do about it per se. These forces have a mind of their own and they reorganise their onslaught in unimaginable and inexplicable ways. VUCA, the phrase has given us a framework to make sense of these forces. The only contribution of the phrase as I see it is that it has given a name to the beast.
There are varieties of ways in which we have been told, this VUCA can be dealt with. There are framework solutions to it and there are attribute solutions to it. However neither really tells us – what do we really do when the giant wave of VUCA has hits us? What is the single most important thing that matters at that stage? Here is my argument, albeit running the risk of bordering on oversimplification.

The best way to solve the external VUCA is to first fix the internal VUCA. Each one of us has multiple forces that are colliding with each other - anxieties, fears, insecurities, disillusionments, biases and finally ego. In small measure or large each one of us carry this inside every day as we walk into our work space. That is like multiple combustible elements playing with fire – all ready to explode. Imagine such a mind is at work to solve the external VUCA! Fire does nothing to extinguish fire – except to heighten it.

Most complications arising out of the external VUCA are cognitive in nature – they can be understood with a little application of intelligence. One can be given developmental inputs, sent to training programs and put through experts to give a sense of the problems and its potential solutions. Irrespective of our mastery to solve these, the issue continues to remain outside of us. It’s like a moving target at worst. Now add the complication of trying to shoot this target atop a galloping horse, when you are very angry or disturbed or panicked or agitated. What are the chances you will hit bulls eye?

The flutter in the heart is the worst enemy of a steady hand! Composure and poise are allies during extreme turbulence. They may not extinguish the fire, but it definitely does two things – it enables to choose the right way to douse it.

 At daily work instances of a delayed project deadline, a mistake, a cost overrun, a scripting error, unpreparedness for a high stake presentation, non achievement and non performance are daily occurrences. Watch the leader during these crunch moments – and watch his/her patterns during crunch moments. The pattern will tell a story. It will tell a story of how well the leader mangers his/her internal VUCA. If the tempers run lose and the voices go high most of the times during such circumstances then clearly the leader’s ability to manage the internal VUCA is rather limited. I leave it to the reader’s judgement if such a leader will ever be able to manage the vagaries of external VUCA.

I believe that VUCA is not purely a cognitive concept – beneath the wrapper it is being question. Those of us who have a handle over our own emotions stand a better chance to solve the problems that lie outside us. A leader I heard recently summed it up accurately – ‘’One of the primary tasks of leadership is to absorb nervous energy during crunch moments’’. There are leaders who exude calm during toughest of circumstances and there are those who blow their lid at the least of flutters. It is no one’s guess which team would do better, which team would be happier between the two.
How does this calm and poise to rein the internal VUCA comes from? How is it built? Can it be even learnt? Those are questions for some other time; for now let’s settle this once for all – there is not even a remote chance that external VUCA can be solved for without solving for the internal VUCA.

Declaration – My teams view on  my own ability to manage my internal VUCA is likely to be different my own view.
(First Published in People Matters)

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